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Home » Miscellaneous

Taking the Plunge

Submitted by on August 11, 2008 – 3:28 amNo Comment | 2,735 views

The Cliff Jumpers

On a recent trip to the Niagara Escarpment I observed large signs proclaiming the prohibition against jumping off the high cliffs into the turbulent waters of Georgian Bay. At first I was surprised that the obvious had to be stated, after all, who in their right mind would want to jump off a thirty foot cliff into a sea of surging waves? However, a quick search on Youtube revealed the popularity of cliff jumping at the escarpment and the resultant need for posted warnings.

I figured that these warnings would suffice to discourage even the brave-hearted from making the foolhardy leap, but I was wrong. Sitting on one of the overhanging rocks I saw a father of two, coaching his son on the art of cliff jumping. He seemed a reasonable fellow and in conversation was revealed to me as quite spiritual too, why then was he coaching his own son in this dangerous activity? Before I had a chance to ask, he demonstrated his foolhardiness by making the jump himself, albeit from a lower altitude than his son. It took him several long minutes to fight the waves and make his way back to shore, but timing his moves expertly he struck out with sure strokes and finally reached the shore.

He told me that cliff jumping has been a family hobby for decades and that he visits these shores every year specifically to jump the cliffs. From his point of view, climbing the escarpment without making the jump is a waste of time. He understood that cliff jumping is not for everyone, but those who make the leap, discover an intoxicating thrill that draws them back.

Indeed, cautious conservatives like me will never know the thrill of a thirty foot plunge or the satisfaction of navigating the surging waves. Then again, cautious ones like me will also never risk their lives in the quest of thrill.

The Spiritual Plunge

His words gave me pause because it struck me that though I might never jump off a physical cliff we have each taken the spiritual plunge. The ancient Jewish mystics described the descent of the soul from heaven to earth as a radical plunge from a transcendent perch to a bottomless pit. Not surprisingly, the soul is reluctant to jump, but G-d guides it to the precipice and encourages it make the leap.

The physical leap is fraught with danger: One risks breaking bones on the jagged rocks, landing in shallow water or drowning in the mighty waves. The spiritual jump is also risky because the bottomless pit is filled with obstacles and challenges for the soul. In a world filled with materialism, the soul risks compromising its spiritual innocence or even being influenced by the decadence prevalent in our society. Yet the soul is required to take the leap because without it she cannot fulfill her destiny.

It is the destiny of the soul to reside in a world inhospitable to G-dliness and nevertheless remain committed to G-dly ideals. The heaven is filled with lofty souls, but G-d wanted the soul to enter the fragile human state where it is vulnerable to compromise, but where it can exercise its freedom of choice to embrace the Jewish way.

The Insular and the Secular

We each take the plunge before we are born, but once our souls make the leap and enter the material realm there are two philosophies on how best to cope with its challenges. The first is cautious, the second aggressive. There are those who leap once, emerge from the waters and remain rooted to dry land, never venturing again into the dangerous and turbulent waters. There are those who master the technique of cliff jumping, learn to navigate the boisterous waves and venture out repeatedly into the dangerous, but exciting waters.

In our analogue these two schools are reflected in two kinds of people. There are those who reside in insular communities to protect against the secular influence and those who venture out into the larger community seeking to integrate the message of the soul with the materialism of our world.

The strong, insular communities are enclaves of spirituality where a soul can find a measure of security in a world fraught with the allure of the secular. Such communities provide strong support networks, study groups that reinforce commitment and interaction with others who share similar values. Living in such communities insulates our children against the attraction of the secular and gives them the opportunity to embrace a G-dly lifestyle with a full heart.

Then there are the spiritual cliff jumpers, the brave-hearted ones who venture out of the insular community into a world that does not share their values. They take the plunge and risk being dragged backwards or even downwards by the powerful, turbulent trends. Such people master the technique of cliff jumping and learn to navigate the waves; they use these skills to protect themselves against secularism and to preserve their spiritual commitments in their chosen environment.

Serving the Primary Purpose

These are not thrill seekers, who leave their communities in search of a thrill; they do so in the service of a cause greater than themselves.  The purpose of creation was to usher the purity and nobility of the Divine into our harsh and spiritless world. Those who plunge in and swim against the tide risk the purity of their souls, but it is a risk they are willing to take because their destiny is at stake.

My new acquaintances, the cliff jumping family, spent their afternoon biting their nails to the quick, evading Park Rangers and stressing over every jump, but they walked away satisfied for they had overcome their fears and experienced a thrill. Similarly, those who venture out of the safe communities, the spiritual cliff jumpers, stress over risking their spiritual integrity, but they walk away satisfied for they fulfil their destiny and satisfy their primary purpose of creation.

The only distinction between, the physical and spiritual cliff jumpers is that the former are in violation of park rules and should be stopped, whereas the latter are in full concert with G-d’s will and should be encouraged. Only by venturing out into the environment that renders us spiritually vulnerable can we transform our world into an abode conducive to the Divine.